State v. Castillo, A21-0995

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtLARKIN, JUDGE.
PartiesState of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Orlando Omar Castillo, Appellant.
Docket NumberA21-0995
Decision Date13 June 2022

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.

Orlando Omar Castillo, Appellant.

No. A21-0995

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 13, 2022


This Opinion is Nonprecedential Except as Provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).

Carver County District Court File No. 10-CR-20-997

Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark Metz, Carver County Attorney, Andrew D. Delain, Assistant County Attorney, Chaska, Minnesota (for respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jennifer Workman Jesness, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Connolly, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Smith, Tracy M., Judge.

LARKIN, JUDGE.

Appellant challenges his conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm, arguing that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress the firearm, which was discovered during a warrantless vehicle search. He also challenges his sentence, arguing

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that the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a downward sentencing departure. We affirm.

FACTS

On October 11, 2020, a deputy monitoring highway traffic in an active construction zone saw a vehicle driven by appellant Orlando Omar Castillo in the closed westbound lane. The deputy pulled alongside Castillo at a median crossover to inform him that he could not drive in the closed section of the highway. The deputy exited his squad car, approached the driver's door, and saw what appeared to be a handgun on the front passenger seat. The deputy asked Castillo to exit the vehicle, but Castillo refused, became argumentative, and made "odd comments." The deputy suspected that Castillo was intoxicated. The deputy called for assistance, and additional officers responded. The responding officers saw an open container of beer in the center console while standing outside of Castillo's vehicle.

The deputy learned that Castillo lived in Arlington, so he asked dispatch to see if anyone could provide information about him. The Arlington police chief responded and agreed to drive to the scene to transport Castillo home. The police chief arrived and spoke to Castillo. Castillo handed him the handgun through the window, and it turned out to be a BB gun. Castillo finally agreed to exit his vehicle approximately two hours after the deputy had initially approached him. When he got out of the vehicle, he left its engine running and its keys locked inside. The vehicle was in the median crossover lane used to access "Wells Avenue and the 212 Equipment dealership."

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The deputy was willing to allow a family member to pick up the vehicle, but it could not be left in the open traffic lane. And because the keys were locked in the vehicle, there was no immediate way for officers to allow Castillo to move his car out of the traffic lane or to move it themselves. One officer observed that there were visible personal effects in the vehicle, including money on the front passenger seat and a cell phone on the dashboard.

Castillo left with the police chief, and a decision was made to impound his vehicle. Prior to the vehicle being towed, an officer used his lock tools to enter the vehicle, and a search was conducted. Law enforcement located a half-full can of beer, additional beer cans, and a loaded sawed-off shotgun inside a plastic bag on the front passenger seat.

The state charged Castillo with five criminal offenses, including misdemeanor possession of an open container and three felony firearm-related counts. Castillo moved to suppress the evidence recovered from his car and dismiss the charges, arguing that the evidence was discovered as the result of an unlawful warrantless search. The district court denied Castillo's motion, concluding that the automobile and inventory exceptions to the warrant requirement justified the search.

Castillo waived his right to a jury trial and stipulated to the prosecution's case, under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4, to obtain review of the district court's pretrial ruling. The district court found Castillo guilty of the three firearm-related charges, and the remaining charges were dismissed by agreement of the state.

Castillo moved for a sentencing departure. He asked the district court to depart from the mandatory minimum 60-month executed sentence and to impose a 21-month stayed sentence. The district court denied Castillo's motion, entered judgment of conviction on

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count two, unlawful possession of a firearm by an individual convicted of a crime of violence, and imposed a 60-month executed sentence. Castillo appeals.

DECISION

I.

Castillo contends that the district court erred by denying his suppression motion. When reviewing a pretrial order on a motion to suppress evidence, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo. State v. Sargent, 968 N.W.2d 32, 36 (Minn. 2021).

The state and federal constitutions protect against "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, § 10. Warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable, subject to a few established exceptions. Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 372 (1993). The state bears the burden of establishing that an exception to the warrant requirement existed. State v. Ture, 632 N.W.2d 621, 627 (Minn. 2001). In this case, the district court in this case relied on two exceptions. We consider each in turn.

Automobile Exception

The automobile exception to the warrant requirement permits police to search a vehicle without a warrant, including closed containers in the vehicle, "if there is probable cause to believe the search will result in a discovery of evidence or contraband." State v. Lester, 874 N.W.2d 768, 771 (Minn. 2016) (quotation omitted). "Probable cause exists when there are facts and circumstances sufficient to warrant a reasonably prudent person to believe that the vehicle contains contraband." Id. (quotation omitted).

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Castillo concedes that the officers had probable cause to search his vehicle for evidence of the open-container offense and "were justified in collecting the open container from the center console." But he argues that "the further search of the car, particularly the search of the bag where the shotgun was found, exceeded the scope of the probable cause."

"The scope of a warrantless search under the automobile exception is defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe the object may be found." State v. Gauster, 752 N.W.2d 496, 508 (Minn. 2008) (quotations omitted). In State v. Schuette, this court held that an officer was permitted, under the automobile exception, to search a rolled-up grocery bag for evidence of an open-container violation, as the bag "reasonably may have contained additional cans or bottles." 423 N.W.2d 104, 106 (Minn.App. 1988).

Here, law enforcement issued Castillo a citation for an open-container violation after observing an open container of beer in his center console. While searching the vehicle, officers discovered the shotgun inside a plastic bag on the passenger seat. Given the plastic bag's proximity to Castillo and the open beer in his center console, as well as the bag's potential for concealing additional alcohol containers, law enforcement did not...

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